Portugal not only broke the taboo by decriminalising all illicit substance but also recognised the importance of on-site harm reduction in party settings. Read here how their holistic CHECK!N party service helps young people and others.
DANCE PARTIES AS SETTING FOR HARM REDUCTION
The use of legal or illegal psychoactive substances is a multidimensional phenomenon that is in constant mutation. It occurs across all times, cultures, sociocultural backgrounds, ages, and genders, but is more prevalent in specific contexts. Parties (bars, clubs, public spaces, raves, summer festivals…) are oriented to break work/study routines and to search for pleasure, celebration, freedom, experimentation, and also risk. In these settings, certain drugs are used to favour desired altered states of mind -that improve the intensity and the party experience (for example, stimulation, good mood and expression, socialisation and communication-). In general drug use, patterns and dynamics that are growing on a national and European level are directly connected with the drugs most commonly used in party settings, such as alcohol, cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, etc. In fact, nowadays -recreational drug use is a trend which is socially integrated in party settings.
RISK MANAGEMENT IN PARTY SETTINGS
In order to address this phenomenon, APDES in 2006 created a service named CHECK!N, an outreach team oriented to promote informal education about drugs and drug use, sexuality and other contextual risks, and to research and identify changing atterns of drug use– and new trends in party settings. In terms of its theoretical background, CHECK!N embraces the pleasure- and risk- management approach, – a sub-category of harm reduction that integrates also the pleasure dimension, balancing information on the beneficial effects of drugs and risks, in order to promote greater security for drug uses. The intervention depends also on the specificities of party settings and of -recreational drug use. This -reasoning is also transferred to the aesthetics, attitudes, communication and materials provided by the project. In party settings, the team creates an infostand with -suitable aesthetic, non-moralistic information about drugs, sexuality, etc., chill out (when -appropriate-) and services as breathalyser, snorting kits, condoms and Drug Checking (using the Thin Layer Chromatography technique).
Considering that CHECK!N is a front-line service, research is also relevant to identify new trends (new drugs, new drug use patterns, new markets…), to report them and to improve the intervention, and to design and experiment new approaches, materials, etc. In this sense, the team is always improving and collecting data, developing new ways of evaluating, and reflecting upon its own processes and results, combining different quantitative and qualitative methodologies (online and offline ethnography, Focus Group, interviews, questionnaires).
Participative methodologies were also emphasised in the project from its inception. Peer education is one of the most relevant components of the project in the capitalisation of the party goers' knowledge and experience, promoting proximity in the interventions and with party goers, and also in the information dissemination in informal networks that the project can´t reach. Since 2006, the team has trained almost 70 volunteers, some of them long-term, and reached a relevant level of experience. In addition, most of the salaried workers started out as volunteers.
The participation dimension can also be seen in the team's local and international networking. At a local level, the team established multiple and diversified partnerships with local projects, institutions and decision-makers, promoting and participating in meetings to discuss specific issues about the territory. Through this practice, the team is able to understand, in a holistic way, the specificities of the territory and also the different narratives (from party goers, nightlife settings staff and managers, police, neighbours, schools, etc.), in order to use local resources in a sustainable way, to complement local interventions, to intervene with new groups and to identify new dynamics.
International networking is also very relevant, as a means to understand, on a global level, the way drug markets are evolving, to flag up the use of new drugs and new trends in Europe, to understand the relation between supply and demand, and also to exchange best practice in terms of intervention in party settings.
GLOBAL PARTY SCENE
In the midst of globalisation, it’s possible to see a growing flow of people (travels, Erasmus, etc.), music trends, local dynamics (for example the movement of party setting from industrial areas to historical city centres), drugs, etc. In this sense, local and international networks are crucial to performing a comprehensive and holistic analysis of recreational drug use.
Considering its eight years of existence, CHECK!N is more than a project: – it's an online and offline service with constantly-updated national and international information about drugs and drug use, it is a brand easily recognised by party goers, it is a front line service which identifies new trends in “real time”, it is an expert service in recreational drug use, with skills which are widely recognised by other professionals and teams.
In the course of eight years, CHECK!N has proved it is much more that a project, it is a service of proven effectiveness, which has earned national and international prizes. Recently, it was with great honour and gratitude that all CHECK!N technicians, volunteers, peer educators and all who were previously involved in this projected received the European Drug Prevention Prize 2014, awarded by the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.
The team's greater challenge is to finally earn similar recognition from the governmental and funding institutions which insist in maintaining discontinuities in the funding (and consequently in the local interventions), to force the team to move to different territories, and to invest significant time and resources in the effort to obtain funding. Until the team can accomplish this, CHECK!N will continue to be resilient, working towards a pragmatic and humanistic understanding of drug use, minimising risks and maximising pleasure!
Cristiana Pires, Helena Valente and Daniel Martins – APDES
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